The Southern Ocean reveals another one of its fascinating secrets.
Work undertaken by Katya Ovsyanikova (a lecturer/guide for Heritage Expeditions) for her Masters Degree at the University of Canterbury’s Gateway Antarctica, provided evidence (based on photo-identification of individual animals and other characteristics) that at least some of the orcas from the Ross Sea regularly visited northern New Zealand in summer/early autumn. This was also supported by Italian Researchers who followed satellite tagged animals from Terra Nova Bay to Northern New Zealand during the 2014/15 summer. It is not clear how many animals make this journey, whether they do it annually and most curiously - why?
Katya, who was on a scholarship from the Russian New Zealand Foundation in New Zealand, compiled a photo library of Orcas photographed recently by the Top Predator Alliance project in the Ross Sea region. She then compared them with photos taken in and around New Zealand and in various regions of Antarctica from a catalogue of photos compiled by Orca Researcher Dr Ingrid Visser. Some of the photos in the Top Predator Alliance library and in Dr Visser’s library have been taken by participants on our expedition cruises. This underlines one of the important contributions that expeditions such as ours can make to science. Dr Regina Eisert from Gateway Antarctica, the lead scientist on this “Top Predator Alliance” project under whose supervision Katya worked, is keen to see more study done on these Orcas because she says this work only raises more questions than it answers.
This is just one of the many secrets of the Southern Ocean, there are many more yet to be revealed. We are only just starting to understand the region’s importance, not only in our weather systems and consequently its role in climate change but its role in the life of those that call it home. The University of Otago has recently obtained approval from the Department of Conservation to establish a research station on the Auckland Islands to start considering some of these questions. The location of New Zealand’s Subantarctic Islands makes them the perfect laboratory to study the Southern Ocean. Our many expeditions to these islands provide an opportunity for you to see, to experience and to begin to understand just how important the Subantarctic Islands are as breeding grounds for numerous seabirds and mammals as well as the importance of the Southern Ocean for our planet’s health and wellbeing.
Read more about the exciting discovery on the New Zealand Herald's Website - Scientists reveal new orca insights, or on Stuff.co.nz - Killer Whales Swim Nearly 5000km from Antarctica to NZ